TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR LIFE AND BE GRATEFUL FOR IT EVERY DAY. I decided long before I reached the end of the story. The thought of the three of them living under one roof for so many years was endearing, and I couldn’t help but wonder how they’d managed so well in Angola, of all places.
Later that day, our talk became more serious. “Are you happy about returning to South Africa?” Carole Lynn asked. “It is such a good time for South Africa.”
Gracie replied, “We’re all eager to get back. We’ve missed it. Plus, South Africa is where we must be buried. It is our motherland.”
“Will you miss Angola?”
“Yes, for different reasons. I’ve been here a long time, and we made a life here. But South Africa will be better for us…better for Anna when we are gone.”
“We?” I asked.
“Yes, I will leave this earth soon, and Mary Margaret will go with me.”
That prompted me to share a story my mother used to tell my brother, sister, and me. They all listened, and Anna even leaned over and told me that I had Mary Margaret’s full attention.
“My mama used to tell an old legend about a lion and a dying woman who wanted to go to heaven. I never heard anyone else ever talk about it, and at times, I thought it was all in her head—made up to make us feel better about the future, to look ahead, wonder, and wait for better times. Have you heard the story?”
None of them had heard it, so I began, telling the story the way my mother told me. “The story starts with a woman who’d been sick for a long time. She knew it was time for her to leave this earth and move on to the afterlife. She waited and waited, and one day a voice from the heavens told her, ‘A strong lioness will come your way to take you home. Others will be afraid, but you needn’t fear. The lioness will be fierce and show anger, but she knows the secret to finding the afterlife. Take hold of the lioness and ride her to your end.’ When the sick woman asked the heavens how the lioness would know the way, the heavens said, ‘She will know the way. You need not worry. Have faith in what you have just been told.’ Then one day, a powerful lioness arrived in the village. The sick woman heard that the animal was terrorizing the people of the village. She hurried to find the lioness, but it was too late. The lioness had been stabbed and lay dying on the ground. The sick woman cried aloud until finally a voice came from the sky. ‘Climb onto the animal before it is too late.’ She couldn’t consider such a thing, for she would certainly be laughed at and her life would be a horrible mess. But the voice spoke the same words again. After contemplating for several minutes, the sick woman realized the lioness was taking her last breaths. The woman knew it was time for her to follow her faith, so she climbed onto the lioness just before the animal’s soul lifted up and flew away. The lioness flew the sick woman towards the Crux Constellation, seen high in the sky. The Crux was the door to heaven, and the two went through it. Later, after the two arrived at heaven, the lioness finally spoke. The great lioness said, ‘Here you will find peace. But you may never return to that which is now below you.’
“My mother told us that in the very early days, people in the Northern Hemisphere were able to see the Crux Constellation, also called the Southern Cross,” I continued. “But over time, the land and people in the Southern Hemisphere became much poorer. So God moved the Crux there, to the southern sky. My mother said she wanted to take us there one day—I think she meant here in southern Africa—so we could see it for ourselves.”
“That’s such a pretty story,” Gracie said quietly. She was holding Anna’s hand, and I saw how close they were.
“Do you think the Southern Cross exists in Africa, down here in the south?” I asked.
“Well, of course, the Crux Constellation exists. It’s been in our sky for as long as people can remember,” Gracie answered.
“I don’t mean the stars. I’m wondering about the magic behind it. There has to be something powerful about a cross shining high in the sky over the Southern Hemisphere.”
“There is magic in the Crux,” Anna answered. “But I think it comes from a deep hope and desire for something greater. They say if you watch the Crux long enough, your soul will be filled with spirit and grace. The bushmen said this as they watched the smoke and ash from their ceremonial fires rise high into the sky and float towards the Crux. Neither wind nor rain altered the smoke’s path.”
“I think a whole lot of folks in South Africa—the whites, I mean—found their Southern Crosses after Nelson Mandela was freed and apartheid was abolished,” Carole Lynn said. “Marc Robbi found it when he learned about the Bee Charmer. They all found their Southern Crosses. It changed them, and they never looked back.”
“One thing Mandela said was absolute truth. ‘When Afrikaners change, it is 100 percent.’ For those people, there was no going back,” Gracie said. “One day, apartheid was there, and then the next day, it was gone for good. Some people say it was all about holding onto power, but I don’t think so. At least I don’t think that was the case for many Afrikaners. The Lord tells us we shouldn’t care about the position we hold. He doesn’t care about those trivial things. To the Almighty Savior, we are all the same.”
I saw Anna’s eyes rolling as Gracie attempted to finish her point. “I mean…I think most Afrikaners were good Christian people. Apartheid was their way of solving the coexistence issue. The issue was not about holding onto all the money and power; it was about holding onto a way of life.”
“Ma,” Anna interrupted Gracie. “We don’t need to try to analyze why they hated the blacks so much. They hated us and that’s all we need to say about it.”
“They didn’t hate blacks,” Gracie continued. “They were scared of them. They knew a free society in South Africa would mean majority rule. They thought they would lose everything and blacks would retaliate against them with violence. They thought they would be destroyed. That is what’s so great about South Africa; when the blacks were freed, the majority chose to forgive the minority and move on. I love South Africa!”
“Ma, don’t go overboard. There is still too much poverty there. There are shacks and slums all over the country. A lot has changed, but not everything.”
“The poor will overcome,” Gracie answered back. “Always remember what the Good Book says, and you remember too, Sarah: ‘Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.’ We must look at our time on earth as temporary. We can’t stall because we’re not satisfied with all we see. For the most glorious of all is waiting for us in its own time.”
“So, you believe we are all sojourners too?” I asked. “My mother used to say that a lot about me and my siblings.”
“I think we are here temporarily, and we must keep our eyes on our real home. That home is not here. That’s why God put the Crux in the sky; He wanted to show us the way and to remind us there is something bigger, something greater, to look towards.”
My reply was simple. “I think you’re right about the Southern Cross. Africa is blessed to have it.”
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